I’ve never had a blog before starting We Learn Naturally, so I’m learning as I go how they work. While looking for a past blog post, I noticed that my blog post Labels had over 500 hits! Woah. When did that happen? How did that happen? So I decided to reread the post to see why it might have been so popular.
When I read Labels again, I had fresh eyes. In the post, I gave an example of a mother’s push back to break free of an ADHD label on her child. I recognize that not all mothers have that privilege. In fact, children are often born into multiple societal labels related to age, race, gender, sexual preference, religion, culture, and social class…and these labels are exceedingly difficult to push back on. The word intersectionality comes to mind.
Hearing about the six year old girl from Mississauga, who is black, in a single parent home, with a mother who has cancer, (notice the number of labels this young girl falls under) who was restrained in handcuffs…sadly this doesn’t shock me. While I hope that restraining a child in handcuffs does not ever happen in Ontario, I know that it is happening in the US, where the ‘school to prison pipeline’ is more pronounced. (Just writing that phrase “school to prison pipeline” sends shivers through my body, so if you shiver reading that, I’m with you.) It may be illegal to spank or use corporal punishment in school, but it is not illegal to threaten, scare, punish, shame, or demean a little person who has is consistently “out of line” with school authority. Even if it is not happening to your kid, this style of discipline is probably happening to other kids at your child’s school. This is the school environment for many public schools in Ontario and it happens most often where the populations are vulnerable and kids carry multiple labels. We know through studies involving spanking or other forms of corporal punishment that there is an escalation of violence or an escalation of force when using negative reinforcement. Well, the same is true if force or violence is used in a school setting. Now, I realize I have a broader view of what violence entails than your regular Facebook moms’ group (thanks to nonviolent communication), but basically schools are using reinforcement tactics that are violent with our most vulnerable young people. (Violence meaning basically anything that brings about harm or pain.)
Since starting Learning in the Woods, I have been humbled by the number of emails we receive from, usually moms, who have stories that are on the same vein as the Mississauga 6 year old. Perhaps their child was not restrained by handcuffs or has fewer labels, but they are certainly desperate for an educational alternative for their child. Moms who are in the difficult position of trying to explain to their child that they are not the problem, or that adults like teachers, principals, and police should be trusted, or that schools should be safe. What an impossible task, right? How do you undo those messages of violence and power? How does a mom with a job and her own set of labels and pain take on that entire system? (Answer: She doesn’t, at least she can’t do that alone which is why we need to support this Mississauga mother by writing to the superintendent or saying no to shame and violence at your child’s public school. Or if you are a mom fighting it alone, maybe you conserve your energy and direct it towards figuring out how to get your child out of that specific violent environment.)
When I receive these calls, emails, or PM’s, it’s sometimes hard to know how to offer support. Not only, is the mainstream school system not serving their child, it is damaging them. As parents grapple with how best to navigate among just a few alternatives to main stream education (which will be one alternative stronger with the opening of The Barn School!) I can’t help but notice that the kid has a better shot at breaking free of the labels and systemic violence if their parents also break free. The truth is, that without parents acting as strong advocates, it’s really hard for a child to endure that alone without some sort of repercussion.
Here is a Self-Directed Education (SDE) advocate and mom Akilah Richards sharing her reasons behind choosing SDE. She is a writer and poet, so her words will inspire you to “raise your child as a free person” with a “right to design their own path” (paraphrased) better than I ever could.
As awful as this experience has been for this family, I can see that it brings about an opportunity for conversation and the possibility to create some real change in our public education system. I find that inspiring! I want to be part of that! But this real life story also reminds me why I chose to get out of the public system and start something new. I need real alternatives to be available now. I have a need for security and healing for those around me. I can use my privilege to bring an alternative forward for those who cannot wait or do not have the patience to work through systemic change. I see the work of We Learn Naturally as being part of a larger change that we are probably all motivated to see happen. This is just my route and I look forward to seeing where it leads me.